People head out of town for holidays

Though it might be muted compared to previous years, holiday travel is in full swing throughout the D.C. region and elsewhere with pre-Christmas screening at the nation’s airports surpassing Thanksgiving numbers, despite official health guidance to stay home.

Lines were growing early Wednesday at D.C.’s Reagan National Airport, WTOP’s Melissa Howell reported, where passengers were cautious and aware of the risk amid an ongoing nationwide surge in cases.

Howell said some travelers came prepared with hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes for their flight. Airport employees were proactively monitoring check-in and security areas for overcrowding and health compliance — at one point, an employee flagged a passenger down for not wearing a mask and provided them with one.

“We’re going to visit our grandchildren,” traveler Amina Heart said before boarding a flight to California along with her husband, carrying wipes they’ll use to disinfect their assigned seats. “We follow the guidelines, keep our masks on, wash our hands.”

But a Florida-bound traveler said the pandemic wasn’t on her mind: “I’m sorry, but I don’t care. I mean, I already had coronavirus, so I’m not really too scared about it.”

Driving south along Interstate 95 in Virginia, WTOP reporter Nick Iannelli saw little traffic and noted the same route seemed far busier in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. He found the Dale City rest stop mostly empty Wednesday morning, with the few people there wearing masks and keeping their distance from one another.

The AAA anticipates more than 84 million Americans will hit the road or travel by air or rail from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, a 29% decline from what would normally be expected in a non-pandemic holiday season.

But despite a broader willingness to stay home, airport security officials still logged 3.2 million passengers last weekend, besting Thanksgiving throughput and marking the only time since March that the agency screened over one million passengers per day for three days straight.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends postponing travel and staying home above all else, but advises those who do choose to meet with friends and family to get tested both before and after traveling. Check for any state or local requirements and familiarize yourself with travel restrictions before heading out the door.

For the latest road and traffic conditions, see WTOP’s traffic page or listen to updates every 10 minutes online or on the air at 103.5 FM. Submit traffic tips by calling 866-304-WTOP or tagging @WTOPtraffic on Twitter.

WTOP’s Melissa Howell and Nick Iannelli contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove the name of one of the interview subjects.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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